Whodunit?, part 2

A couple of days ago the person who purchased one of my paintings at OCAD's mystery art fundraiser was kind enough to send me an email. I'm informed that the painting has already been framed to good effect in a floating frame, and that its new owner lined up at 5:00am, securing the 25th spot in line, to get it. I'm delighted to know it's gone to such a good home. I've been meaning to post the image for a while now, so here it is:

White-throated Sparrow--still life, oil on gessoed board, 5 1/2" x 7 1/2"

This unfortunate sparrow flew into a window. I'm fairly sure I heard it happen and found the little bird, still, but unmarred, on my porch just moments later. A small heartbreak. If I'd been a nineteenth century leisure class naturalist, I'd have made more detailed studies. I'm half sorry I didn't. It's not often that such an exquisite model just falls into one's hands.

White-throated Sparrow--still life, detail

White-throated sparrows have a distinctive, evocative call. If you live in North America, you may already know it. If you'd like to hear it, visit this wikipedia page and click on the audio file under Song and Calls.


Whodunit? Gala Preview at OCAD

Lemon, cut and squeezed, oil on gessoed card, 5 1/2" x 7 1/2" private collection

Last night I attended the Whodunit? Gala Preview and Auction at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD). For me, a flâneur at heart, it was a perfect opportunity to infiltrate the well-dressed crowd and to watch, entirely incognito, as people braved the crush to scrawl down their bids for the small works--my still life lemon painting (above)--was one of them. None of the artists' names was revealed, so unless people were already familiar with a particular artist's style, it was a completely blind bidding process. I was extremely gratified to see that my painting was an early favourite, and at my last check, 5 minutes before bidding closed, had secured a price more than double the cost of my complimentary gala ticket. I don't know in whose hands the painting left, but I would love to. If you are the new owner of "Lemon, cut and squeezed", please do let me know.

The auctioneer for the live auction of larger works was very entertaining, but I left before all the works had been presented to take a quick survey of the downstairs gallery of small works which will be sold at the public mystery art sale for the low price of $75 apiece beginning on Saturday. One of the OCAD attendants at the auction told me that public demand for the small works is usually so high that people begin to line up hours before the doors open. To see the online preview of the works on offer, click here. One of my paintings is still available in the public sale. But I can't reveal anything...yet. I'll post a picture once the sale is over.

Lemon, cut and squeezed (detail)

All proceeds from the Whodunit? art auctions and public sale go to support programs at OCAD. It's not too late to buy an original artwork and support a worthy cause.


Star Portraits

A day I’ve been anticipating with mixed feelings is almost here; the episode of STAR PORTRAITS in which I appear will air on Bravo! television tomorrow night, Saturday, Nov. 14, at 8:00 pm EST.

If you can’t watch on Saturday, you’ll have a chance to see the episode again on Wednesday night at 9:30, and anytime thereafter (along with the rest of the series) on the Bravo! website

The portrait I painted for the series will be posted to my completely redesigned website: shortly after the episode airs.

I'd love to read your comments about the series or my revamped website.


Royal Winter Fair

I attended the Royal Winter Fair yesterday. It was my first solo visit to the fair, and my first with sketchbook in hand. I had a fantastic day drawing and was surprized to see so many fellow sketchers. I spent a while talking to two of them: a young woman studying fine art at U of T, and a young man studying animation at Sheridan. The fair is a fantastic place for drawing. I'd love to try to make it back for one more day of sketching before it closes. I'm posting a selection of drawings from my visit (mostly domestic fowl it turns out, and one g.p.).

Modena gazzi pigeon--a very proud looking bird

Old German Owl pigeon--a pretty little bird with an alert eye,

Elegant but slightly absurd Jacobin pigeons, like stylish ladies hiding behind high fur collars.

A white fantail pigeon who kept peeking at me from behind its extravagant tail while I drew

Leghorn cockerel and tiny, pretty Call ducks--pure white with small orange bills.

A classic Leghorn cockerel, white with a magnificent red comb and lethal looking stare, not to mention a very impressive crowing voice

A glossy black Australorp, with beautiful fluid lines and iridescent green sheen. The prize-winning hen had laid a pale brown egg in her cage.
And, an Abyssinian Guinea Pig, (drawn for someone who knows who she is)

Sketching at the Zoo

Last week I went sketching at the Toronto Zoo.

Peacocks roam freely around the zoo

Malayan tigers--postures and attitudes so much like my own cat

declared a distinct subspecies only in 2004

The lions are distant in their outdoor habitat, but utterly magnificent
(the hippo didn't stay around long enough for me to draw)

African elephants

Last year when I agreed to participate in an episode of Star Portraits (currently airing on Bravo! in Canada--click here for details), I was forced to confront something that I knew, but hadn't really acknowledged: I am utterly uncomfortable drawing or painting in front of an audience. I love to draw from life and I participate in weekly life drawing sessions, but in that setting most artists are too intent on their own work to take much notice of their peers. I realize that it's very seldom that any eyes but my own see my work in progress. I've moved from the very public work environment of art school, to the semi-privacy of a shared studio, to the complete solitude of my own studio space. I've become used to working unobserved. I'm certainly more productive and less distracted in my own studio, but the luxury of my own space has made me a little more insular in my work habits than I ever intended. I'll never abandon my studio practice--I love my time alone at the easel--but I miss that feeling of tense engagement I get when I work in public. In the studio, I can let my attention wander. Out in the world, I need to concentrate differently. So I've resolved to draw, and eventually paint, more often in public spaces.

The zoo was a perfect place to begin. The animals don't object to being closely observed; their forms and attitudes are unfamiliar enough that I can't make any assumptions while I draw; and I get an innoculation against my spectator anxiety with every new surge of school children swarming around me to see the zoo exhibits. Plus, the flâneur in me loves to be solo in a crowd--lingering wherever I want, observing everything, and being at no one's whim but my own. I'm planning another zoo visit in November.


Life Drawing

from last night's life drawing session | vine charcoal on Stonehenge paper


Oh the shame--Canada loses its Portrait Gallery

from Tuesday night's life drawing session

*Warning* rant follows:

Why does this federal government have such a narrow view of nationhood? It plans to spend a fortune on patrol ships to assert our physical dominion over our arctic territories (which may contain vast reservoirs of oil) while removing the possibility of a physical portrait gallery to tap the vast reservoir of our cultural heritage. Most Canadians will never visit the arctic, but it looms large in our collective consciousness and forms a critical part of our identity here and abroad. A nation's cultural heritage can do the same. The national archives should have a physical presence in the form of a publicly accessible portrait gallery in our nation's capital. The knowledge that the gallery exists will inform our sense of identity and serve as the tangible backbone--the actual destination that Canadians and others can think of and aspire to visit when they view the virtual gallery online. I've heard so many times that there is no substitute for visiting the arctic in person. As any art lover knows, there is no substitute for standing in the presence of a work of art rather than viewing it in print or online reproductions. The vast archive of portraits of Canadian citizens--the very people who have made this country--should not be reduced to digitized ephemera. There is a wealth to be mined, and not just in the arctic. From their beginnings great nations have propped up their identities with their art and artists' depictions of their history. Let's get some recognition for our culture--for what we've cultivated--not just for our natural assets. Canadians need to know that should we choose, we can experience in the flesh the portraits that appear only as images on our computers. The arctic exerts a pull on our consciousness. A Portrait Gallery of Canada could do the same. In Britain, the National Portrait Gallery is a monument to British culture past and present, a huge pull for foreign and British visitors, and a beacon for artists everywhere. Canadians too should have a place to come face to face with portraits of the people who have shaped and continue to shape our history.

p.s. To those who think they know what portraiture is, and that it is a stodgy, old-fashioned art, I would say that portraiture dictates only the subject, but neither the medium nor the method, and can be as radical and thought provoking as any other art form. Portraiture will endure because nothing comes closer to a shared common experience than one person encountering another through the eyes, mind, and hands of another. Portraiture is vitally alive and always relevant.

Click here to read a CBC article about senator Jerry Grafstein's attempts to champion the Portrait Gallery of Canada.


Face Time: the Portrait Under Investigation

Suspect Profile #5 (detail), oil on birch panel, 24" x 36"

I'm pleased to announce that several paintings from my Suspect Profiles series will be included in a new exhibition entitled Face Time: The Portrait Under Investigation--a selection of contemporary portraiture by Sadko Hadzihasanovic, Timothy Laurin, Louise Noguchi, and Shannon Reynolds.

The exhibition coincides with the opening of another fascinating exhibition called Arresting Images: Mugshots from the OPP Museum. This show features mugshots photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries was organized in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the OPP. The two exhibitions should resonate very well together.

Both shows open this Sunday, May 31, 2009 at the Art Gallery of Peel, in the Peel Heritage Complex in Brampton's historic downtown. Opening reception 1-4 pm. The invitation recommends people RSVP by May 22, so I guess I've made my announcement slightly late, but you could still try. Please contact me if you'd like more information.


Twin Planes

Twin Carter Mitre Planes, brass with ebony infill, oil on canvas board, 8" x 10"

This painting of my twin mitre planes--planes given to me by the very generous Bill Carter, planemaker, and his wife Sarah--should be on a plane en route to Bill and Sarah right about now. To read the whole long story, click here. I thought I had completed the painting a couple of months ago, but several things about it continued to bother me. So, just when I was on the verge of sending it off to Bill and Sarah, I unpacked it and put it back on the easel.

the painting before...

and after my changes

I made some minor changes and then painted a dark glaze over much of the background, obscuring but not omitting the Carter name in the background. Normally, I'm not a fan of oily paint and prefer a fairly matte surface on my finished paintings--especially my portraits, but something about this still life seemed to lend itself to a little more gloss. Although it won't be apparent on screen, my changes affected the sheen of the painting and gave it a richness the original lacked. I'm much happier with this new version and hope it will find a good home with Bill and Sarah.

Derek Weiler 1968-2009

Derek (detail), oil on canvas,
collection of Gerald and Marie Weiler
© Shannon Reynolds

I’ve been thinking about Derek all day, reading the tributes, and wanting to write something myself. But when I found myself using the past tense, my heart broke and I couldn’t continue. Finally I decided that if I addressed myself directly to Derek, the brutal finality of the grammar might be a little easier to take.


I have your advance reader’s copy of Roberto Bolano’s
2666 on my nightstand, your mixed tapes and cds throughout my music collection, your face in many photographs documenting some of the best moments of my life, your portrait as Fifth Business (the role you chose to enact, so aptly, in my Dramatis Personae painting series) in my living room, your words and gestures in my memory—everywhere traces of you, and yet, unbelievably, never again you.

You insinuated yourself so easily, so modestly, but so indelibly into so many lives. I doubt that anyone who knew you for more than a few minutes ever forgot you. I can’t believe I’ve had the privilege of your friendship for over 15 years. Your boyish good looks (a cliché turn of phrase that was made for you) and affable demeanour belied your strong opinions. But you never shied away from debate and were always willing to consider other perspectives. You were the beating heart of our long-running book club, and you kept us punctual, diligent, and well-read—feeding us links to interesting supplementary articles and reviews on our blog, not to mention the celebrity status you conferred on us when we attended the IFOA annually. Without you, how can we go on?

In my mind I can conjure you so easily. I’ve been remembering one gesture in particular, one I’ve seen you make so often, the one where you scoop your arm around Sari’s shoulder and pull her next to you, then look down at her while she looks up at you and exchange that perfectly intimate smile only possible between people deeply in love. The memory makes me gasp—at the realization of what you gave, of what you had, and of what we’ve all lost. Too soon, Derek, much too soon.

You’ve left a uniquely Derek shaped hole in my life, and in so many others. Thank you for spreading yourself around so much. I’m so glad I knew you. I’ll never stop missing you.



Points of Departure

Opens tomorrow. The opening reception is Sunday, March 1 from 2-4. All are welcome. Click the invitation for a larger/more legible image. Or follow this link for more details.


Facing my self portrait

I will be part of a three person exhibition coming up at the end of the month. The Art Gallery of Peel is in my childhood home town and the exhibition, entitled Points of Departure, features three artists: me, Phil Delisle, and Linda Martinello, who grew up in the region but have since moved away. We all find different points of departure for our work: portraiture is mine. The curator has asked me to include the self portrait I painted as part of my Dramatis Personae series.

Self portrait as director, oil on gessoed board, 16" x 20"

The portrait, painted on a piece of gessoed board, is now four years old, and has been languishing at the back of a stack of paintings in my studio. Today I pulled it out to consider how to frame it for the show. Facing an old self portrait always produces a bit of a Dorian Gray moment for me—except that it’s the flesh and blood me who’s changing. In this self portrait I was playing the role of a theatrical director so I tried to assume an expression of directorial authority. Looking at my other self portraits, though, it seems that my expression is always the same. Maybe the roles I try to project are all in my head. In any case, this exercise of reexamining an old self portrait with the objectivity of several intervening years is a bit strange. I remember the struggle for self-depiction and wanting to walk the line between self-flattery and self-deprecation. It’s always a fine line, no matter how we represent ourselves—in words, in paint, in facebook profiles. I’m sure I’ll paint many more self portraits over the course of my life—probably not with the same frequency as Rembrandt, but possibly with the same need to chronicle my own life and my painting style and ability in my changing face.

Points of Departure runs from February 25 – March 22 at the
Art Gallery of Peel located in the Peel Heritage Complex,
Wellington St. E.
Brampton, ON L6W 1Y1



Outlier--still life with tomatoes, oil on board, 5" x 7", 2009


Drawn from life

from top left: male profile, charcoal and gouache on Fabriano paper, 10" x 12"; female profile, charcoal and chalk on Whatman paper, 14 1/2" x 11"; Chris, charcoal on BFK Rives, 12 1/2" x 22"

Drawing the human figure from life is one of the great pleasures of being an artist. Nothing has quite the same sense of immediacy: landscapes and still lifes tend to hold still, but a live model is always a time limited challenge. These are a few sketches from some recent life drawing sessions.


January 11

Winter citrus, oil on maple panel, 11 3/4" x 11 3/4", 2009


Hand Planes, Dürer, and a Cure for Melancholy

I am about to begin the second of my hand tool paintings. You can see the first and the story behind it here. This subject of this painting will be two mitre planes of my own—generously given to me by their maker, Bill Carter, and his wife Sarah.

Since my first tool painting (done in exchange for a favour by my neighbour and plane maker, Konrad Sauer), these hand tools and the makers and users of them have captured my interest. I’ve been on the lookout for examples of other artists depicting hand tools in their work.

Albrecht Dürer's much discussed Melencolia I
(hand plane in foreground)

Recently, I was contacted by Bill Duce who came to my site via Konrad’s. He reminded me of Albrecht Dürer’s famous etching, Melencolia I, in which a winged female figure sits, chin on hand, with woodworking tools, including a hand plane, strewn at her feet and many other meticulously rendered elements rich with symbolism and allegory surrounding her. I have a book of Dürer’s work by French scholar Marcel Brion and I read his chapter on Melencolia I. In it Brion writes that there was a distinction at that time in the early 16th century between morbid and healthy types of melancholy, and that Dürer himself didn’t fear melancholy, but frequently submitted to it. Melancholy is not uncommon for artists and it is good to be reminded that in earlier definitions melancholy wasn’t viewed as a necessarily interminable or devastating condition, but rather as, in Brion’s words, “a salutary sort of restlessness, resembling the recuperative weariness of an artist after a productive period of toil”. How gratifying, I think, considering that I have often experienced dry periods of relatively melancholic inertia following intense periods of work—even while sitting in my light-filled studio surrounded by the tools of my trade, the evidence of my prior labours, and books full of inspiration.

Reading beyond Brion, I found an article by Eric G. Wilson, a professor of English and author of “Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy”, in which, citing Keats, Handel, and Georgia O’Keefe as examples, he embraces the idea of melancholy as a possibly necessary precursor to inspiration that should not be denied. Wilson decries our contemporary addiction to happiness as a craze that leaves little room for the recuperative introspective gloom that so many artists seem to require. In Brion’s book he writes that Dürer would have been acquainted with a statement by Ficino that “all men who have excelled in art have been melancholy”, and maybe this allowed him to feel melancholic but never wholly succumb to despair. This morning, reading my Globe and Mail, I read Ivor Tossell’s column in which he writes that Facebook has created a strange alternate universe of perpetually happy people where no one wants to commit social networking suicide by admitting to any kind of melancholic impulse—where we are all poseurs in a collective game of putting our best persona forward. To this day I don’t know what to make of Facebook. I check in from time to time, but I find I honestly can’t keep up with or add to the constant chipper buzz. How can anyone find any kind of inspiration or even recognize one’s own thoughts in such a cacophony? I’ll take my salutary melancholy in the studio.

To tie this back to hand planes, let me just say that I was in one of those recuperative states following an intense bout of forced creativity for Star Portraits when I decided to contact Konrad about that favour I owed him. Following my afternoon with him in his shop becoming acquainted with the tools of a trade altogether foreign to my own, inspiration, and a kind of awe at the ingenuity of people who chart their own paths in life, appeared and lead me down the most fascinating path—one that has found me with two mitre planes of my own and paintings to paint. Unlike Dürer’s melancholic figure, I’m inspired for the moment, but I won’t deny melancholy when she strikes again, I’ll just take heart, recognizing like so many artists before me that inspiration often arrives in the most unexpected places.


Green Chysanthemum

Green Chrysanthemum, oil on board, 5" x 7", 2008

My last painting of 2008.


January 5

Pomegranates, oil on maple panel, 11 3/4" x 11 3/4", 2007

Pomegranates figured in my painting for last year's Christmas card as well. Somehow, I neglected to post it here.

Pomegranates (detail), 2007



I hope you had a wonderful holiday season.

Once, a still life with pineapple and pomegranates, oil and gold leaf on plywood panel, 15 3/4" x 19 3/4"

This is the full painting that I used as the basis of my Christmas card this year. I was thinking about the incredible abundance of once exotic and rare fruits, especially in this frigid part of the world. Given the unpredictability of our climate, our fuel costs, and our economy, to say nothing of the new focus on locally produced foods, I thought I'd paint some of these exotic-become-commonplace subjects before they become the exclusive fare of the super rich once again.